[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1993, Book II)]
[October 28, 1993]
[Pages 1840-1846]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks to the Medical Community at Johns Hopkins University in 
Baltimore, Maryland
October 28, 1993

    Thank you very much. You have just seen the most stunning example of 
one of Clinton's laws of politics, which is whenever possible be 
introduced by someone you've given a good position to.
    I want to thank Hillary--[applause]--think about that. [Laughter] I 
want to thank Hillary for the absolutely wonderful work that she and the 
health care group have done. This has been an unprecedented effort, 
really, involving thousands of Americans from all walks of life. I don't 
know how many doctors from around America have told me it's the first 
time any kind of health care reform has started by asking people who are 
actually providing health care what they thought about it. I want to 
thank all the groups that were involved in it, the Nurses Association, 
countless groups. This group just met with 1,500 separate groups in 
trying to put this plan together.
    And I want to say a special word of thanks to President Richardson 
and Dr. Block and to

[[Page 1841]]

Dean Johns and to Dean Gray and to Dean Sommer and all the people here 
at Johns Hopkins. This university has played a truly unique role in this 
process because so many have been involved; Hillary said over 20 faculty 
members, a few students, many administrators. We are very, very grateful 
to you. And I thank you.
    You know, when a President gives a speech there's always a little 
meeting, a hurried little meeting that occurs beforehand, a couple of 
days beforehand, and the staff gets together and they say, ``Well, what 
do we want to achieve?'' And it goes something like this. ``Well, you're 
going to Johns Hopkins. Be sure and tell them that it would be very hard 
for us to have done this without Ben Cardin because we can't really pass 
it unless he really wants to help us pass it on the Ways and Means 
Committee.'' So they say brag on Congressman Cardin, and that's in the 
note. So I'm doing that, and that's true. [Laughter] And then they say, 
``Here are the points you're supposed to make.'' And so I wrote it down. 
Instead of all these notes, I just wrote down, they say, ``The purpose 
of this speech is to remind the American people that we actually have a 
plan, that it is written, that it is universal, that it is 
comprehensive, and that we actually asked people in health care to help 
us put it together.'' Now, I should just sit down. That's it. [Laughter]
    And that is what I want to do today. I want Americans all over this 
country, who look to the Johns Hopkins Medical School, who know that 
this medical center is a shining beacon of everything that is best about 
our health care, to know that this plan is real; it is specific; it is 
concrete--within the next couple of weeks every American will be able to 
read it at a library, or buy it in bookstores or other places where 
paperback books are sold--that it is specific, that it is universal and 
comprehensive, and that people who actually know something about giving 
care to people, healing the sick and taking care of people to help them 
stay well, had a big role in this; that we listened and incorporated 
those suggestions.
    And I want to talk a little bit today about what has already been 
said: What do we mean by keeping what's right and fixing what's wrong? 
But in the beginning let me say something that doesn't have anything to 
do with my notes because I think it's important about how we all came 
here. All of you came here because you had a personal history. You might 
wonder what two lawyers who met in law school and got married like 
Hillary and me are doing, being obsessed with health care. [Laughter] 
It's an interesting and long story. My mother was a nurse anesthetist. I 
was permitted as a young man to go into hospital rooms, to go into 
emergency rooms, to go into even surgery, to watch surgery when I was a 
young person. And I didn't faint.
    I can remember in a simpler time before there was Medicare or before 
there was Medicaid, when poor working people would pay my mother for 
performing the anesthesia in kind; when fruit pickers would come to 
Arkansas in the peak season and literally bring bushel baskets full of 
peaches to our door to pay for the service she had provided for some 
member of their family in the operating room.
    I can remember when I met Hillary in law school, she took an extra 
year in law school to work with the Yale Medical School on the problems 
of children and the relationships of children's health and developmental 
problems to the law, or at that time, the relative lack of relationship 
of children's health and medical problems to the law.
    In 1979, when I became the Governor of my State, and it was obvious 
we had a lot of serious problems both in terms of quality care and the 
availability of care, Hillary headed a task force in our State on rural 
health care to try to figure out what we could do to bring health care 
to more places in our State that didn't have it. And we set up and 
funded for the first time with State funds a tertiary care center at the 
Arkansas Children's Hospital, now the seventh largest in the country, 
I'm proud to say.
    When I was a Governor, we went many times to the Mississippi Delta 
where Robbye McNair is from. And I want to thank her not only for what 
she's become--this is a long way from Belzoni, Mississippi, folks--but 
for the fact that she wants to go back there to take care of the people.
    I have been in schools in the delta, which is the poorest part of 
America--the Mississippi Delta from Memphis to New Orleans is still 
America's poorest region--where as many as 30 percent of the kids have 
serious dental problems because even in their teen years they've never 
seen a dentist, they never had anybody give them any primary care 
advice, and where they're asked to stay in school and learn under very

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adverse circumstances, when they're literally in pain all day every day 
because they never saw a dentist.
    So there are a lot of things that all sort of put these threads 
together that brought us to this point. And in 1990, I was asked on 
behalf of all the Governors to join the then Republican Governor of 
Delaware, now a Congressman from Delaware, Mike Castle, in trying to 
come up with some bipartisan Governors' approach to this because we all 
had millions of people who didn't have any health insurance, many others 
who didn't have any access to health care, and yet the Medicaid budget 
was breaking every State government in the country, taking money away 
from what we wanted to spend on education and on economic development 
and trying to offer opportunity to our people. So by the time I decided 
to run for President, I had been living with this for a very long time.
    I just couldn't see how America would ever get where we needed to be 
by the dawn of the 21st century without dealing with the health care 
crisis. I didn't believe it. That's why we decided to do this. That's 
why we devoted so much of the last 9 months to developing this plan, to 
presenting it, to giving it to Congress.
    And if I might, I would just like to say a couple of words about 
that. This is a deep human problem for every American who's ever lost 
health insurance, for every American who never had it, for every 
American who can't change jobs because someone in their family's been 
sick, for every nurse or doctor who tears their hair out because they 
spend so much time filling out useless forms, or because they have to 
get on the phone and call some bureaucrat and get permission to do 
something that anybody with a lick of sense would know they ought to do 
    This is a human problem. But you must understand that it has 
enormous ramifications for all the other aspects of your Nation's life, 
because as we spend more and more and more and more money on health 
care, and yet more and more and more people don't have access to it, and 
more and more others are afraid they're going to lose it, and more and 
more small businesses make the decision every year to get rid of their 
health insurance or to raise the deductible to $2,500 or $3,000 or 
whatever, that chips away in millions of little human stories at the 
collective security we need as a country to face the challenges of the 
present day.
    We have been 20 years now when most hourly wage-earners in America 
are working harder for the same or lower wages, longer hours at work, 
less time with kids. We see a global economy full of both hope and fear; 
full of challenges there to be seized that offer opportunities for 
people and full of great pressures on people who aren't very well 
prepared for this global economy.
    We have to face as a nation what it's going to take for us to enter 
that next century just a few years away now--the world's strongest 
country with the American dream alive and well for everybody who's 
willing to do what it takes to seize it. That means we have to 
dramatically change our economic approach, our education system, our 
commitment to invest and grow, the way we relate to one another. We have 
to make a full-scale assault on the problems that are destroying the 
quality of life for millions of our young people and preventing them 
from growing up to be what God meant them to be. And in order to have 
the courage to change, we're going to have to have a much higher level 
of certainty that if we do the right things as a people, we will at 
least be rewarded with the basic things of life. And it begins with the 
health care issue.
    So I say to you that this is a very important thing on its own 
merits. It ought to be done. In any age in time with this set of 
problems and this set of opportunities in health care, somebody should 
be willing to act. At this time, it is critical for America to get in 
the shape we need to be in by the beginning of the next century so we 
can do what we have to do as a country.
    Now, very briefly, let me say how we seek to fix what's wrong with 
the system and keep what's right in terms of the six principles that I 
laid out when I addressed Congress on this issue last month:
    Number one, and most important of all, security. Some things are 
right with this system. A lot of people have good health insurance. Some 
people have health insurance that is paid for 100 percent by their 
employers even, that is very good, that has comprehensive benefits. We 
want them to be able to keep that. But we want to put a floor under what 
they can lose, because, keep in mind, nobody has absolute certainty 
today. Somebody can have a great health insurance policy, but if their 
company lays them off or if they decide to go try to start a small

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business or they change jobs, they can lose it.
    So 100 percent of the people benefit from this plan, because all 
those with great policies now have a floor under them if this plan 
passes. There will be something they cannot lose. Their employer may 
require them to pay more than they now pay because of economic 
pressures, but there's a limit to how much they can be required to pay. 
And they can never lose coverage.
    I think this is very, very important because I hear a lot of people 
sort of slinging their arrows over at our plan, talking about, ``Well, 
they're going to all this trouble for the 15 percent of the people that 
don't have any health insurance.'' Well, you know, there are 15 percent 
that have nothing, another 100,000 a month that have nothing 
permanently. There are also a lot of people that have health insurance, 
but it doesn't amount to much. And there are people that have great 
policies, but they can lose it. So this puts a floor under it.
    Secondly, it provides coverage for people in and out of the 
workplace who don't have it now in the customary way we provide it. That 
is, we require employers and employees who don't have any coverage now 
to make a contribution and provide coverage for those in the workplace. 
For those who are in small business and have low-wage operations, we 
provide discounts. For those who are the uninsured unemployed, the 
Government will cover them in the way we cover Medicaid patients today. 
So we will have security for everybody, and everybody will be more 
secure than they are now. No one under our plan will lose benefits from 
what they have now by what we do. So we keep what's good about the 
system, but we fix what's wrong.
    Simplicity. I think when Robbye said the present system was simple, 
what she meant was it's good to maintain the transaction between the 
doctor and the patient. But make no mistake about it, when you get 
beyond that to the paperwork, our system is the most complex system in 
the world.
    Somebody said, ``Gosh, Clinton turned in a 1,360-page bill'' or 
however long it is. We reckon there will be more than 10 times that much 
legislation repealed if our bill passes. And it's a metaphor for what's 
going on now. Rube Goldberg in his wildest dream could not have designed 
a machine that's like the American paperwork machine in medicine today.
    So what do we want to do? By having a benefits package that is at 
least a basic comprehensive package, we will be able to have a single 
simple form for medical providers, a single simple form for insurers, a 
single simple form for people who access the system. We figure in total, 
maybe four or five forms, but one for each of the main aspects. That 
will dramatically simplify the paperwork burden.
    We also will be able to devolve more decisionmaking back to the 
providers themselves and hold people accountable for results instead of 
having the Government or an insurance company try to micromanage every 
decision on the front end. That will drastically simplify this 
decisionmaking process, drastically cut down on the paperwork, and free 
up all across America millions and millions and millions of hours every 
year for people to do what they train to do, which is to take care of 
patients. And it is very important.
    The third principle of this plan is savings; how do you keep what's 
right and fix what's wrong. What's right in the medical profession with 
regard to savings now, a lot of people are doing a good job, finally, in 
saving money. This institution has proved that you can provide high-
quality care and still have economy. The Mayo Clinic had an inflation 
rate of 3.9 percent on their services last year. The Federal health 
insurance system has modest increases in most of its policies and 
decreases in some. The same is true for the California public employees 
system. So savings are being achieved.
    How do you permit those people to continue to do what is right and 
fix what's wrong, which is that the overall system is still going up at 
2 and 3 times the rate of inflation, that small business premiums are 
going up at 2 and 3 times the amount that nonsmall business premiums 
are? How do you effect those savings? Well, we believe the way to effect 
those savings, first of all, is to stop cost shifting by having 
everybody covered, which will save a lot of money, and secondly, to give 
the presently uninsured small businesses, self-employed people, and 
farmers the opportunity to have the same bargaining power that people in 
bigger units do. There's no reason that big business and Government 
should benefit from all the economies of scale in health care. The only 
reason they do today is because of the way the insurance market is 
    So under our plan, those savings will be fairly

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spread across the whole area, and we will also put Medicaid into the 
kind of comprehensive care delivery system that we're asking for small 
business, and self-employed people. So you'll have the poor, small 
business, and self-employed in the same sort of buying units, larger 
ones, that only big business and Government have today. It will produce 
huge savings. It will not take away the savings that others are getting. 
And it will fix what's wrong and keep what's right. It's high time we 
did it.
    Three other things. Quality. How are you going to keep quality? 
Everybody says we've got the highest quality health care in the world, 
and we do. Is there something wrong there and something right? You bet 
there is. We always know, we know what's right, right? You're right; 
you're what's right about it. We know what's right about it.
    What's wrong about it? First of all, too many people don't have 
access to health care, and too many people, when they get health care, 
get it when it's too late and too expensive in an emergency room. And 
too many people even could be covered in theory--which is what Robbye 
was talking about--too many people could be covered in theory by this 
plan and still not be covered in fact because they might have access to 
insurance but not access to providers.
    So to fix what's wrong and keep what's right, we have tried to 
provide a special financial funding string for the medical research 
institutions, the people who do a lot of health education, for public 
health units in isolated urban and very sparsely populated rural areas 
to make sure that the access to health care as well as to insurance is 
there. And we have tried to emphasize primary and preventive services in 
this comprehensive package of benefits. Perhaps the single biggest 
deficiency across the board in American health care is the insufficient 
attention we have paid to primary and preventive services. And that is 
how we will improve quality and not undermine what is right.
    Choice. We got a lot of letters, including from doctors saying, 
``You're going to make me be in an HMO, and I don't want to be.'' We got 
letters from people saying, ``You're going to make me join an HMO, and 
I'll lose Dr. Jones, and I hate you for doing that.''
    So, here's the issue: How can we preserve what's right and fix 
what's wrong? First of all, let's be realistic about this. Americans 
have been losing their choices of physicians by the millions for the 
last decade, right? Of all the people who are insured in the workplace, 
only one in three today have a choice of plans or options in what their 
employer has provided for them in the form of health care coverage, down 
from 50 percent just 7, 8 years ago.
    What does our plan do? It actually gives people more choices, both 
providers and insured people. Insured people under our plan would have 
three options, at least three. Their employer's premium would be the 
same regardless. They might have to pay a little more depending on what 
option they exercised. They might have an option to be in an HMO. They 
might have an option to be in a PPO, where professionals got together 
and managed their own health plan. There's a group of 700 doctors, for 
example, in Nevada, that have had their premiums collectively go up, or 
their costs, within a range of 2 or 3 percent over 6 years now. But 
there's a huge range of doctor choice because there are so many doctors 
in the group. Or it might be strict fee-for-service medicine at the 
election of the person with the insurance. But at least everybody will 
have a choice now, which is something they don't have.
    So under our plan there will be more choices. The same will be true 
for physicians and other health care providers--will have multiple 
choices about what kinds of things they can engage in because we've 
attempted to prohibit exclusive, mandated organized arrangements in our 
    So we believe as a practical matter, if you look at where American 
medicine is today as compared with 10 years ago, our plan will actually 
provide more choices for both the insured and for medical providers than 
they now have.
    And finally, responsibility. Let's be frank about this. This system 
lends itself to a lot of monkeying around. There's a lot of health care 
fraud. There is some abuse of the legal system, of malpractice. There is 
the ability of people to overutilize the system because there are no 
significant deterrences to it. Americans have a lot of habits which make 
us sicker and which cause us to use the health care system more, that we 
need to deal with. There is something to be said for the proposition 
that we will never really bring health care costs into line with what 
they ought to be until all of us are willing to assume a higher level of 
personal responsibility for the outcome of the health of the American

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    I want to make this last point, and I want you to think about it. 
Don't answer out loud, but everybody think of this in your mind. I don't 
know if you've thought of this, but this is the kind of thing I have to 
think about as President; it's my job. If I were to ask you what are the 
reasons that America spends 14.5 percent of its income on health care--
Canada is at 10. Germany and Japan, our major competitors, are under 9; 
that means they spend under 9 cents on the dollar. We're spending 14.5 
cents on every dollar made in America on health care. Let me just give 
you an idea of what some of the practical consequences of that are. 
Every year they spend 3 cents on a dollar more than we do investing in 
their infrastructure. You know what that means? That means 10 years from 
now, they're going to have better airports; they're going to have faster 
trains; they're going to have better roads. They're going to have 
invested in those things that may be boring but may provide a much 
higher quality of life and a much higher income. But they had the money. 
It means that they can invest in all kinds of R&D in their economy, 
which may give them critical advantages 10, 20 years from now because we 
spend this money on health care now.
    So, if I ask you, why is that? How can they cover 100 percent of the 
people? And you can't just say they don't invest any money in medical 
research. It's plainly not true in Germany, one of the leading countries 
in the world, for example, for pharmaceutical companies. If I were to 
ask each of you, why is that? What's the difference in their 9 percent 
and our 14.5 percent? Is any of it good, from our point of view, and is 
some of it bad, and what can we do about it? And how much of it requires 
responsible decisions on the part of all of us?
    Here would be my answer. This is the best I can do, and I thought 
about this until my brain aches for years now. I believe first of all, 
we spend more money on some things that we intend to keep right on 
spending more money on. We spend more money on medical research and more 
money on technology, and we don't want to give it up. And it's an 
important part of our economy, and we're not going to. And make no 
mistake about it, that also creates high-tech, high-wage jobs. When 
pharmaceutical companies spend a lot of money on research, they put a 
lot of scientists to work. And that's a good thing for the economy.
    So these are good things, and that will mean more. What's the rest, 
though? We have huge numbers of unnecessary procedures. We all know 
that. We don't do enough primary and preventive care. We all know that. 
We do have all kinds of fraud and abuse in this system. And we spend a 
dime on the dollar more in administrative costs than any other country 
in the world because of paperwork. That's the stuff we've got to fix.
    Finally, we have certain group behaviors that we have to deal with. 
In the 1980's, under great financial pressures, schools all over America 
virtually abandoned physical education at a time when poor children 
needed it worse than anything. They needed not only the exercise, but 
they needed education in dietary habits, in personal hygiene habits, in 
the kinds of things that ought to be a part of a physical education 
curriculum. You want to lower the cost of health care? Undo that. Fix 
it. Go back and do something differently so that people can deal with 
    We'll never get the cost of health care down to where it is in other 
countries as long as we have higher rates of teen pregnancies and higher 
rates of low birth-weight births and higher rates of AIDS and, most 
important of all, higher rates of violence. We've got so many people cut 
up and shot in our emergency rooms, how in the world can we expect to 
lower our health care costs?
    That's why this responsibility is so important. We begin by asking 
people who are taking advantage of the system to pay something into it. 
This business that we're going to break small business if we require all 
employers to pay something who don't pay anything now is not very 
    My Small Business Administrator, Erskine Bowles, has spent 20 years 
creating small business. And he's perhaps the most ardent advocate for 
our plan. Why? Because he knows that 70 percent of the small businesses 
do provide some health insurance coverage. Most of them are paying too 
much for too little, and a lot of them are risking going broke because 
of the cost of the premiums. And one reason is that other people, who 
can access the system when they need it, don't pay anything even though 
they can afford to pay something. So that's the beginning of 
responsibility. If all of us are going to have access to this system, 
all of us should

[[Page 1846]]

make a contribution in accordance with our ability to pay.
    It goes way beyond that. We have certain group behaviors in this 
country that are imposing intolerable burdens on the health care system, 
which will never be remedies. And we must recognize every time another 
kid takes another assault weapon onto another dark street and commits 
another random drive-by shooting and sends another child into the Johns 
Hopkins emergency room, that adds to the cost of health care. It is a 
human tragedy. It is also the dumbest thing we can permit to continue to 
go on for our long-term economic health. Why do we continue to permit 
this to happen?
    And so we need to advocate those things, too. We need to put the 
physical education programs back in our schools. We need to favor those, 
not just the Friday night contests. We need to think about the kids who 
need it. And we need to challenge these group behaviors. We have got to 
reduce the number of low birth-weight births. It's great that we can 
keep all of those little babies, or so many of them, alive today. But it 
is an unnecessary cost. We can reduce those if we work at it.
    And most important of all, we have got to do something about the 
rising tide of violence in this country. There's a crime bill that the 
Congress can give you for a Christmas present that includes the Brady 
bill and more police officers on the street and alternatives for kids, 
and we ought to pass it. We ought to pass it before the Congress goes 
    Let me close with this. We are beginning now the process that will 
lead to a vote sometime next year on the health care plan. It will begin 
with this, and the more people who know what's in this, the more people 
who make constructive suggestions about how it can be improved, the 
better off we're all going to be. So I ask you to think about this: This 
book will be in every library in the country. It will be available, 
widely available. And now that the Government Printing Office has 
printed it, any other publisher in the country can go out and try to 
print it for a lower cost. That's good. That means we'll have a little 
competition and these books will be everywhere. [Laughter]
    I want to implore all of you to get this and read it, to get as many 
of your friends and neighbors as possible to read it, and to create a 
climate in this country where we have an honest, nonpartisan American 
debate to have an American solution to this issue; and that you insist 
that these principles be observed--that we fix what's wrong, keep what's 
right--and that we act on this, that we act on it before Congress goes 
home next year. It begins with you knowing about it. Please help us.
    Thank you very much, and God bless you all.

Note: The President spoke at 12:20 p.m. in the Newton White Athletic 
Center. In his remarks, he referred to university officials William C. 
Richardson, president, Michael E. Johns, dean, medical faculty, Carol J. 
Gray, dean, School of Nursing, and Alfred Sommer, dean, School of 
Hygiene and Public Health; Robbye NcNair, medical student at the 
university; and James A. Block, president, Johns Hopkins University